The Next Three Days * * * 1/2

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Director: Paul Haggis.
Screenplay: Paul Haggis.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, Lennie James, Olivia Wilde, Ty Simpkins, Daniel Stern, Helen Carey, Kevin Corrigan, RZA, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hines.

Having cut his teeth on Television shows (“ThirtySomething”, “L.A. Law” and “Due South” among others) and writing screenplays for Clint Eastwood (“Flags of Our Fathers”, “Letters from Iwo Jima”, “Million Dollar Baby”) as well as a Bond film (“Casino Royale”), Paul Haggis has only really directed a handful of films. Quite a surprise, considering he’s been around for a while but also quite consistant in his directorial duties.

Out of the blue, businesswoman Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested and convicted of murder, her teacher husband John (Russell Crowe) the only one who believes her innocence. When appeals are exhausted, Lara becomes suicidal, and as their son is suffering, John decides to break her out.

This film reminded me of the type of material director Ron Howard would be drawn to. In some ways it even starts out how he would have made it; underwritten characters; emotional family upheavel; the every man’s fight to keep his family together. Something along the lines of Howard’s earlier film “Ransom”. That film happened to be one of Howard’s better forays but he has made some crap and the beginning of this film shaped up like the usual Howard Hollywood hokum. However, Haggis is in charge and with the normally reliable Russell Crowe onscreen, as well as some nice short appearances by the likes of Brian Dennehy, Daniel Stern and Liam Neeson, this film trancends it’s uncertain material into a gripping fast-paced thriller. Credulity is in question on several occasions and the lack of drive in the beggining threatens to sink the whole affair but it takes a dramatic turn for the better in the second half, having more in common with 1993’s “The Fugitive” and almost as exciting. It’s not often we get a jail-break film from the outside perspective and with Crowe’s subtle show of strength and dynamic central performance, we get a story that just about manages to suspend disbelief by taking you to the edge of your seat.

It may be a slight step down from Paul Haggis’ earlier films “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah” but despite this, it shows that he’s a capable director of suspense and thrills. Two thirds of a fine film.

Mark Walker

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